New Year’s Eve has traditionally been a hotbed for fight cards for nearly two decades now.
Every New Year’s Eve people get their party on, gathering to feast, count down the final seconds of the current year and make resolutions that will probably only last a month at the most. And for MMA fans, New Year’s Eve is a great time to watch some fights.
Unlike Thanksgiving and Christmas, New Year’s Eve traditionally is a time where MMA promotions ring in the new year with noted events. In fact, it might not be farfetched to say if the NFL has Thanksgiving and the NBA has Christmas Day, then MMA has New Year’s. Most of the New Year’s MMA tradition doesn’t come from the Americas, however, but rather Japan.
Japanese promotions have produced New Year’s Eve cards for about two decades now, with origins stretching back to 2000 with the professional wrestling/MMA mixed Inoki Bom-Ba-Ye events. These ran for four years before being discontinued until the 2010s.
The 2003 event, in particular, featured a who’s who of names from the Japanese pro wrestling world — including Inoki, Tatsumi Fujinami and Yugi Nagata — and MMA world — including Fedor and Alexander Emelianenko, Alistair Overeem, Josh Barnett, Michael McDonald, Lyoto Machida and Rich Franklin.
But as this tradition paused, a new one started thanks to PRIDE. While PRIDE held December 23 events between 2000 and 2002, the promotion created the annual PRIDE Shockwave event in 2003. Holding such a card annually until its 2007 folding, PRIDE Shockwave events took place at the Saitama Super Arena in Saitama, Japan — where the 2001 and 2002 Inoki Bom-Ba-Ye events were held — and MMA community members look back on the Shockwave cards with high praise.
Since then, Saitama Super Arena has been synonymous with Dec. 31 MMA cards.
The year 2003 also marked the first time kickboxing promotion K-1 held its annual “Dynamite!!” event through 2010, with the 2005-2007 events done in conjunction with the Hero’s MMA promotion. Following PRIDE’s closure, the “Dynamite!!” event was moved to the Saitama Super Arena. And other Japanese promotions — including K-1, DREAM, DEEP and the Inoki Genome Federation (IGF, which revived the Inoki Bom-Ba-Ye events) helped to fill the void left.
New Year’s Eve cards today are most associated with RIZIN, a spiritual successor to PRIDE, who have held such events since its establishment in 2015. Most of these events feature the conclusion of a Grand Prix tournament and/or title fights, with some “gimmick” type matches thrown in (i.e. Floyd Mayweather vs. Tenshin Nasukawa last year).
This year’s event, RIZIN 20, will feature Ayaka Hamasaki defending the RIZIN super atomweight tittle against Seo Hee Ham and the conclusion of the Lightweight Grand Prix. Just days prior, RIZIN will also be co-promoting an event with Bellator MMA, which will feature a showdown of PRIDE legends Fedor Emelianenko and Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, as well as a rematch between Michael Chandler and Benson Henderson.
As for the UFC, it has held events in the days leading up to New Year’s in 2006-2008, 2011-2013 and 2016-2018, but has never held a card on Dec. 31 itself. It did hold a New Year’s Day event, however (with weigh-ins on New Year’s Eve), with UFC 125 — an event that featured one of the classic lightweight title fights between Frankie Edgar and Gray Maynard.
In its heyday, the UFC also aired an Ultimate New Year’s Eve pay-per-view, which was a “best of” show for the year of UFC action.
But last year, the Professional Fighters League (PFL) concluded its first season at The Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden in New York on New Year’s Eve, featuring six tournament final fights and each winner earning $1 million. They’re set to do the same for its second season this year.
So if you’re a fight fan, make sure to add to your New Year’s celebrations with RIZIN, PFL, both, or even a classic PRIDE Shockwave event.